Jul 02 2021

How Digital Twin Tech Brings Data Visibility, Situational Awareness to Utilities

Gwinnett County, Ga., tested a digital twin to monitor sensors for water plant leaks.

The Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources in Georgia recently tested digital twin technology to optimize a multisite water utility. The digital twin was, much as its name implies, a virtual representation of a physical location.

The county took data on water ­pressure, flow and temperature from the water plant and imported it into an Azure data lake. It then used a Microsoft Power BI dashboard to display the data.

“I think that the old-world version of facility operations and maintenance is kind of dying. By that, I mean everything has gone through an evolution where people relied upon paper work orders and paper reports. That isn’t good enough, because things have become more complex,” says Charlie Roberts, deputy director of facility operations for Gwinnett County. “We went to more advanced, computerized maintenance management systems, but we navigate the world in 3D as human beings.”

“It makes sense that the next ­evolution of this is to create more of a virtual environment,” he says. “It’s ­easier to teach. It’s more contextual for operators and ­maintainers, and it’s an easy way to bring ­people up to speed than just through the written word.”

How Digital Twins Can Improve Government Services 

Gwinnett County has only conducted a trial run of the ­technology for its water utility to date, but digital twins could give utilities and smart cities a better understanding of their infrastructure and thus improve citizen services. Using a digital twin speeds up crisis response while reducing costs. Companies in the market include IBM, Siemens and Microsoft.

Dan Isaacs, chief technical officer at the Digital Twin Consortium, describes a digital twin as a “virtual ­representation of real-world entities and processes, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity.”

“A virtual twin monitors the ­operational data of infrastructure and assets,” Isaacs says. “Digital twins use real-time and historical data to represent the past and present and simulate predicted futures for both analysis and control,” potentially preventing failures.

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Digital Twins Enable Savings for Utilities 

Michael Grieves, chief scientist for advanced manufacturing at the Florida Institute of Technology, first applied the digital twin concept to manufacturing in 2002 when he was at the University of Michigan. The idea centered on moving as many physical things to the virtual space as possible, he says.

“In the past, if you wanted to know anything about a physical product, you had to go find it and be in close proximity to it,” Grieves says. “With a digital twin, you could instantaneously and simultaneously have access to the information, no matter where you are.”

Using digital twin technology at a water plant enables a company to gain visibility on a break or leakage before it occurs, Grieves says. In addition to saving money, digital twin technology minimizes any waste of physical resources.

The data from digital twin technology as well as the Internet of Things can help prevent a pump from going down, Grieves says. 

“I can basically collect information on water-pumping devices to say, ‘OK, when I see these particular indications, I know I’m going to have a pump failure in the next two weeks,’” he says.

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